Elevate Difference

Black and Green: Afro-Colombians, Development, and Nature in the Pacific Lowlands

Black and Green is a publication based on Kiran Asher’s doctoral thesis in political science, a field she came to by ways of a masters in Environmental Management and much field experience in Costa Rica, Belize, China, and now Colombia. It is her contact with local people that let Asher to want to explore the link between environmental management and society, and her passion for both of these areas of investigation is well displayed in this book.

Throughout Black and Green, one finds passages where the author speaks of her connection with people involved in the Afro-Colombian movement, a concrete connection made through relationships forged during field work with the people she is writing about. Asher’s book not only examines a little-known area of research (resource management in the Colombian Pacific Lowlands on the west coast) but also gives a voice to a people (Afro-Colombians) who have had problems getting their voice heard in their own country and on their continent, let alone to a wider English-speaking audience.

Research in both of these fields is only recent. African slaves and their descendants have inhabited the Pacific coast area for almost as long as the Spanish colonizers. However, the acknowledgment of a distinct Afro-Colombian identity and the development of a national Afro-Colombians movement have only arisen in the last thirty years. Similarly, in a part of the country which has largely been forgotten by national (and often nonexistent) environmental policies—and despite being home to a unique biodiversity—the development of ecological strategies is also quite novel. Both of these issues, as Asher points out, are inextricably linked, and thus the correlation of these issues in her study.

Asher is a privileged witness (and occasional, often reluctant participant) to the process she is analyzing. She frequently employs firsthand accounts of the meetings she attends and the people she meets, something that transforms Black and Green into an interesting narrative of Asher’s own involvement with/in the identity she is studying (something she is very conscious of and recognizes the ambiguities of). The author does not shy away from exposing underlying issues relevant to the construction of her text; this is especially true in the last chapter where she deals with the thorny problem of Colombia’s last few decades and specifically the guerrilla and paramilitary presence in the region she deals with.

Chapter 4, on Afrocolombianas (Afro-Colombian women), is one of the shortest, but one which could have been developed into its own book. Asher’s meaningful connection with the Afrocolombianas is evident in this chapter and her writing at its strongest. She accentuates the implication of Afrocolombianas in the environmental policies movement and establishes the importance of their mobilization for the larger identity and environmental movements.

Overall, Black and Green is an engaging study that signifies a defining moment for academic studies about both Afro-Colombians and nature in Latin America.

Written by: Sophie M. Lavoie, December 6th 2009